Difficulty putting thoughts into words; speaks in halting phrases; leaves sentences incomplete; stutters under stress; mispronounces long words, or transposes are just one of the few symptoms of dyslexia.
Experts say symptoms of dyslexia usually become more obvious when children start school and begin to focus more on learning how to read and write.
Today (October 4) is Dyslexia Awareness Day, with October being Dyslexia Awareness month.
Kalie Naidoo, a clinical psychologist and course leader on Bellavista S.H.A.R.E’s Award in Literacy and Dyslexia (a course that trains and empowers teachers and other health professionals to deal with dyslexia) answers some interesting questions on the condition.
What is dyslexia
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is marked by difficulties with word recognition, poor spelling and poor decoding abilities.
How prevalent is dyslexia?
International data indicates that between 10% to 15% of people have dyslexia, with around 4% of children severely affected by the condition.
How is dyslexia diagnosed?
Often a paediatrician will make this diagnosis. In South Africa, only medical practitioners and psychologists can make this diagnosis. In the UK and US, teachers with specialist training are able to diagnose. In my opinion, teachers and parents are in the best position to identify that a child may be presenting with dyslexia.
Public policy allows for a learner to access support and academic accommodations (such as extra time, reader and /or scribe, etc) based on the child’s history. Schools and districts are asking for psychological assessments for children to access these accommodations. As far back as 2013, it was indicated that intellectual assessments are not necessary for this. I believe we should be using more curriculum based / achievement tests to identify reading disorders such as dyslexia.
What are some of the common misconceptions when it comes to dyslexia?
A child can only be diagnosed with dyslexia by end of Grade 1, or once the child has had time to mature. We are able to pick up risk indicators by age 4 or 5. We know that early intervention yields the best results. It is also more cost efficient and prevents years of struggle / poor academic results for the child.
Children with dyslexia should not learn a second language. Often, in the South African context, the home language is suppressed. We know that children with dyslexia have no problems with oral language, they struggle with written language. The same areas of the brain are used regardless of which language is being engaged with.
Children with dyslexia are sometimes thought of as being lazy. Their performance within a subject and across subjects varies. Neuroscience evidence shows that extraordinary effort is required for them to read / write and stay engaged in schoolwork.
Dyslexia is a visual difficulty and eye exercises will fix the problem. There are issues of visual stress, but this is not the cause of dyslexia.
Children with dyslexia are gifted. The normal bell curve applies. There might be some gifted children, but most children fall within average abilities.
What interventions / tools / programmes are available to assist people with dyslexia in SA?
The best intervention, is good teacher training to teach literacy. We have sufficient scientific evidence for how to best teach reading to young children.
What are the benefits of early intervention?
It yields change quicker for the child and can prevent the child from suffering from low self-esteem, long-term depression, anxiety and early school drop-out.
Can an adult with dyslexia be assisted or is it then too late?
Yes, they can, although it might take longer to see progress and it is more difficult for them. Many adults develop their own compensatory / coping mechanisms to manage literacy tasks in the work-place and their everyday life, for example – re-reading, using a Dictaphone, text to speech technology, etc.
What are the risks / disadvantages to a person if dyslexia is not diagnosed / they don’t receive assistance?
Long-term, people with untreated dyslexia may be at a greater risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. There is higher likelihood of early school drop-out and the knock-on effect of being lowly educated or uneducated, with poor employment prospects and the associated psychosocial challenges.
What are some of the challenges SA faces when it comes to assisting people with dyslexia?
As a country, we are not sensitive to the reading needs and personal struggles of people with dyslexia. Our reading levels in the general population are so low, that most dyslexic children fall under the radar at great personal and societal cost.